A pro-European opposition coalition in Poland announced unexpectedly on Tuesday that its candidate for prime minister as the country heads toward an October election will be a deputy parliamentary speaker, rather than the main opposition leader.
The candidacy of Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska was announced by Grzegorz Schetyna, the leader of Civic Platform, which is the dominant party in the European Coalition.
It was long assumed Schetyna himself would be the opposition coalition's pick for prime minister. But as the centrist bloc trails far behind the nationalist conservative ruling Law and Justice party, it appears to be an acknowledgement that Schetyna's lack of popularity is hurting its chances.
"I don't know how we didn't come up with this sooner,'' he told party members to laughter. He described Kidawa-Blonska, a former parliament speaker, as someone who "always worked for the good of Poland.''
Despite a string of scandals, the governing Law and Justice party has been rising in the polls thanks to popular social spending measures and a conservative outlook appreciated in rural areas, with support recently of over 45 percent.
The European Coalition is the country's second largest political force, but trails far behind, and was even just under 20 percent in one recent opinion poll.
Jacek Kucharczyk, the head of the Institute of Public Affairs, a Warsaw-based think tank, called tapping Kidawa-Blonska a "smart move'' and said it reminded him of when Law and Justice ahead of the 2015 election tapped Beata Szydlo as its prime ministerial candidate. That was also an acknowledgement that party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, though he had a devoted core of followers, was unpopular with many and hurting the party's overall chances.
Law and Justice won that election and Szydlo ended up serving as prime minister at first, replaced later with Mateusz Morawiecki, though Kaczynski has directed the government from behind the scenes the entire time.
Kucharczyk said the development "comes from Schetyna's lack of wider social appeal and large negative constituency. He is one of the most mistrusted politicians, just like Kaczynski, but unlike Kaczynski, Schetyna does not have such devoted followers.''
Civic Platform governed for Poland from 2007-2015, most of the time under the leadership of then-Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who is now a top European Union leader.